Communication Jürgen Habermas
Hartmut Wessler, Charlotte Löb
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0170


Jürgen Habermas (born in 1929 in Düsseldorf, Germany) is one of the most important philosophers and social theorists in the second half of the 20th and the early 21st centuries. He is usually considered to be the leading figure in the second generation of the Frankfurt School, an influential group of critical scholars associated with the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany. Habermas’s work is particularly relevant for the field of media and communication studies because of several major contributions that have put media and public communication at the center of his social theory and social critique. He is probably best known internationally for two central concepts, the “public sphere” and “communicative action.” These concepts lie at the heart of two of his most widely cited works, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and his opus magnum The Theory of Communicative Action. Media and communication also feature prominently in Between Facts and Norms. Habermas has updated his conception of mediated communication by embedding it in his normative theory of deliberative democracy, which is predicated on the public exchange of ideas and sees democracy essentially as a collective learning process. According to Habermas, therefore, public debates about matters of collective importance constitute the fundamental mechanism through which democracy comes to life. Beyond his academic work, Habermas is known for his influential interventions in public debates on topics ranging from what he perceived as a dangerous revisionist tendency in dealing with Germany’s Nazi past (which he vehemently opposed) to the project of a united Europe (which he wants to develop into a transnational democracy sui generis). Such interventions have made him one of the most well-known public intellectuals in Germany and internationally.

General Overviews

Having been born in 1929, Habermas has reached an age in which several attempts at summarizing his oeuvre and his life have started to appear. Habermas has not published an autobiography himself, and autobiographical remarks are rare. However, Habermas 2008, his acceptance speech for the Kyoto Prize, often considered to be a kind of Nobel Prize for achievements in the humanities, reflects on the biographical roots of Habermas’s lifelong interest in public space and the political public sphere. Published on the occasion of his eightieth birthday in 2009, the German-language Habermas-Handbuch (Brunkhorst, et al. 2009) makes Habermas’s entire work thoroughly accessible across disciplinary boundaries. Specter 2010 deciphers Habermas’s work in the context of the evolution of a democratic culture and self-understanding in West Germany after World War II. Habermas’s eighty-fifth birthday was marked by the publication of the first book-length biography, Müller-Doohm 2014. A genealogical as well as current review of more or less all of Habermas’s public activities is provided by the website Habermas Forum.

  • Brunkhorst, Hauke, Regina Kreide, and Cristina Lafont, eds. 2009. Habermas-Handbuch. Stuttgart and Weimar, Germany: J. B. Metzler.

    This rich German-language handbook offers three avenues into Habermas’s oeuvre: twenty-five short essays on the intellectual contexts of his work, ranging from Marxism through systems theory to monotheism, longer essays on seventeen of his most important works, and thirty-three short encyclopedia entries on central concepts and the way Habermas uses them.

  • Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. Public space and political public sphere—the biographical roots of two motifs in my thought. In Between naturalism and religion: Philosophical essays. By Jürgen Habermas, 11−23. Translated by Ciaran Cronin. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    In his acceptance speech for the Kyoto Prize, Habermas reflects on his childhood under the Nazi regime and the significance of his own speech impairment due to a cleft upper lip for spurring his interest in the conditions and perils of public speech and communication.

  • Habermas Forum.

    A useful English-language resource for anyone interested in Habermas. It features a bibliography of Habermas’s works since 1952 (including translations), an extended though selective list of secondary literature on Habermas published since 1992, and a news section and links to available online resources (e.g., newspaper interviews with Habermas)

  • Müller-Doohm, Stefan. 2014. Jürgen Habermas: Eine Biographie. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

    This book-length biography of Habermas is based on extensive archival research and a series of long interviews conducted by German sociologist Müller-Doohm. An English translation is previewed to be published by Polity Press.

  • Specter, Matthew G. 2010. Habermas: An intellectual biography. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511763083

    Specter thoroughly contextualizes Habermas’s thinking from the late 1950s to the mid-1990s within German postwar political and intellectual history and uncovers the ways in which it responds to crises, turning points, and debates about Germany’s political self-understanding.

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